Laura Marling, I Speak Because I Can (Astralwerks) Laura Marling’s second album contains whispery narratives and brassy love ballads, a show of range that should dispel any and all comparisons to other British pop tarts. In folksy, Celtic-inspired canticles, Marling ruminates on unorthodox topics such as The Odyssey, men at war and dreary snow. On “Blackberry Stone,” the album’s most heartfelt and saddest track, Marling keens over love lost with the most poignant limerick we’ve ever heard: “You never did learn to let the little things go/ You never did learn to let me be/ You never did learn to let little people grow/ You never did learn how to see.”—Eiseley Tauginas
Radio Dept., Clinging to a Scheme (Labrador) What’s better than witnessing a fall from grace? Witnessing a glorious comeback. Three songs off Radio Dept.’s first album, the critically acclaimed Lesser Matters, landed on Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette soundtrack. The follow-up, Pet Grief, eschewed the Swedish trio’s ambient-pop formula and drew tepid reviews. It’s been a long four-year wait for the band’s third record, but rest easy: Clinging to a Scheme pulls together the finest elements from the band’s previous offerings, mixing dreamy pop with punchy vocals. The album’s best moment comes courtesy of “Heaven’s on Fire,” thanks to a jarring sample of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore singing over sweet-sounding synths, “When youth culture becomes monopolized by big business, what are the youth to do?” —Cayte Grieve
The Kissaway Trail, Sleep Mountain (Bella Union) Critics who claim that the Kissaway Trail is nothing more than a poor man’s Arcade Fire can go ahead and pat themselves on their smug backs. The Danish five-piece’s sophomore effort, Sleep Mountain, is a forgettable Neon Bible, which is to say it’s perfectly fine background music stuffed to the gills with disparate indie rock influences. The opening track, “SDP,” is the album’s kitchen sink, with its forceful bass line, swelling chorus, piano chords, church bells and aching Win Butler-esque vocals. It’s a proven formula that might work if it didn’t feel so inauthentic. Tellingly, the album’s best song is a fragile and deliciously trippy cover of Neil Young’s “Philadelphia.” —Alexandra Vickers
Bright Eyes/Neva Dinova, One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels (Saddle Creek) Originally released as an EP in 2004 and now spiffed up with four additional tracks, One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels finds friends and collaborators Conor Oberst and Neva Dinova in good form. Stylistically varied, the album features both the moody, melodic down-tempo indie chuggers that Oberst is known for, as well as more rocking, ecstatic tunes. Those four new songs are welcome extras: “Happy Accident” has a forceful backbeat and cutting vocals, while “I’ll Be Your Friend” features a blistering sax solo. —Michael Jordan
Caribou, Swim (Merge) Swirling, propulsive and incredibly catchy, Swim is filled with rhythmic, warm electronica sounds that would fit in on the dance floor or around the campfire. The natural and unprocessed instrumentation lends a lovely ambiance to the more sparse sections and some jarringly playful “found sounds” arise in the addictive percussion. Daniel Snaith’s lilting voice floats in and out of the dense soundscapes, occasionally locking into a melody or a lyrical refrain. —M.J.
Chris Pureka, How I Learned to See in the Dark (Sad Rabbit/ABA) Traveling troubadour Chris Pureka is a sizzling amalgam of Willie Nelson, Lucinda Williams and Ryan Adams. Each song on her unfettered, gritty third release, How I Learned to See in the Dark, uses gut-wrenching vocals to tug our ears’ heartstrings (never mind the disastrous anatomy misstep). Now backed by a full band, Pureka’s sound keeps maturing. “Landlocked” showcases her mastery of finger picking, while “Broken Clock” plays with rhythm and puns to put over the pain of a broken heart.—Hillary Weston
Broken Social Scene, Forgiveness Rock Record (Art & Crafts) It’s time to face facts: Broken Social Scene will never make another You Forgot It in People. That landmark album was a brilliant balance of experiments and hooks. Their 2005 self-titled follow-up had more ambition but less form. But now that the burden of trying to top a classic has been lifted, the Toronto musicians can finally be themselves. The familiar enthusiasm (“Water in Hell”) and kinkiness (“Me and My Hand”) are there, as are Emily Haines, Amy Millan and Feist, who sing together for the first time on the luminescent “All to All.” On “Highway Slipper Jam,” BSS adds a jittery Radiohead-like beat to their repertoire, which goes to show even low-fi musicians eventually go digital. It’s not as catchy an effort as People, but then again, it isn’t trying to be.—Ashley Wetmore Simpson